Riga-based carrier airBaltic is opening new routes on a scope and scale that would not have been possible without the Airbus A220-300 that is rapidly becoming the mainstay of its fleet.

AirBaltic SVP-network management Wolfgang Reuss, addressing the Routes Europe conference in Hannover April 8, explained that the Latvian carrier made the decision to phase out its Boeing 737s and Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 turboprops so it can operate an all-A220 fleet.

To accelerate the plan, airBaltic will phase out the Boeings by the end of 2019, by which time it will have 22 A220s in service. By the end of 2022, the carrier will have 50 A220s in service; by 2024 it could have up to 80 if it exercises all 30 options it has with Airbus.

The A220-300, with a range of 4,500km and high fuel efficiency, has allowed airBaltic to develop “a completely different cope and scale of network,” Reuss said, opening more and longer nonstops and increasingly in eastern destinations. For example, airBaltic now operates Riga-Abu Dhabi with the A220, a six-hour flight that can be operated with a full payload.

Riga-Almaty, Kazakhstan, is the airline’s second longest route.

The A220’s fuel efficiency and quietness enable these long, thin routes. “We are seeing an average of 20% less fuel burn on flights of about two hours; that’s good for everybody,” Reuss said. “And if you ever heard an A220 take off, you hardly hear it. It gives us a greener footprint and makes our airports better community neighbors.”

The carrier is assessing how it transfers its regional routes, currently operated by the Q400s, to the larger A220.

“We will now only look at regional routes that can be upgraded to the A220 in the next five years. We are optimistic because some of our routes are already crying out for an upgrade,” Reuss said. “All our regional routes will progressively upgrade to the A220, but there will be a small group of routes that will be challenging.”

Karen Walker Karen.walker@informa.com